German banker defends divisive book in growing row

BERLIN Mon Aug 30, 2010 8:44am EDT

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BERLIN Aug 30 (Reuters) - A German central banker whose disparaging remarks about Muslim immigrants have caused a public outcry defended himself on Monday as the Bundesbank board met to decide his future. Speaking at a news conference to present his new book on the future of Germany, Thilo Sarrazin denied accusations he had mixed racial theory into his arguments and defended statistics he said showed that Muslim immigrants were undermining German society.

Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the Bundesbank board member at the weekend, saying Sarrazin's remarks were "completely unacceptable", and urged the central bank to act.

Sarrazin brushed off the criticism and said he was certain he had done nothing to warrant dismissal from the Bundesbank, which can only remove him for serious misconduct.

"I can't imagine the chancellor has had the time to read my book," said Sarrazin, referring to his 464-page work "Deutschland schafft sich ab," (Germany does away with itself) which German media said was heading for the bestseller lists.

"It's very balanced," he said of the book, whose presentation was met by protests in Berlin on Monday.

According to excerpts in German media, the book says that Muslims cost the state more than they contribute, resist integration and may one day form a majority.

"I don't want us to end up as strangers in our own land, not even on a regional basis," Sarrazin writes.

Sarrazin, whose comments have won plaudits from far-right parties at home and abroad, caused further outrage when he said in a newspaper interview published on Sunday that Jews and Basques had genes that set them apart from others.

The central banker, who was formerly the finance minister of Berlin city state, insisted his conclusions about the danger to Germany from Muslim immigrants were based not on ethnic differences, but on their cultural heritage.

Asked about his gene comments, Sarrazin said he had been referring to recent findings published in the media, and said his book showed any bias he held towards Jews was positive.

Jewish leaders in Germany have strongly criticised Sarrazin, saying his remarks threaten to stigmatise Muslims in the same way the Nazis once did to the Jews.

"We need bridge builders in Germany, not hate preachers," said prominent German Jewish lawyer Michel Friedman.

A number of senior government ministers have attacked Sarrazin for stirring up divisions in Germany, home to at least 4 million Muslims, the bulk of them of Turkish origin. It is also home to an estimated 280,000 Arabs.

Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert renewed his criticism of Sarrazin on Monday, saying the government believed the 65-year-old's comments were hurting the reputation of the Bundesbank both in Germany and abroad.

An official for the bank said its board was holding a special meeting at 1200 GMT to discuss Sarrazin's future. (Editing by Tim Pearce)

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